Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Middle is Missing: Cody Ledvina at galleryHOMELAND

Dean Liscum

I'll start by apologizing to Cody Ledvina because I'm going to project wwwwaaaaaaayyyyy too much of my personal and political shit into his work and then I'm going to try and pass it off as detached, apolitical,  objective, Kantian criticism.

I purposely did not talk to Cody about his installation at the opening of Dadtown is an HJ Hub at galleryHOMELAND because I wanted to concentrate on my reaction and not his intention.

The entire show is a single installation. It consists of a jumble of geometric forms: circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares. Ledvina excised the shapes from local political campaign signs for the November 2012 election.  An animated projection and a soundtrack of a seemingly random episode of the Howard Stern radio shows finish out the installation.

My first impression of the exhibit is one of noise: visual, sonic, and cinematic noise. The sign pieces overlap each other in an intentionally random jumble that echoes any polling place on election day.

The pieces are fragments of political visual and linguistic tropes vying for the viewer's attention. They are immediately recognizable as "political" and this recognition emphasizes the branding of political communication: signage and speech in particular. Ledvina's installation takes this branding, this stylistic visual and linguistic argot in which politicians say nothing, but with lots of feeling and strong, vibrant colors as its main target. Ledvina could make a game of completing the signs because it's communication that we've been saturated with. We can finish the phrases but we might not be able to define them because this kind of language has lost its meaning, or like the signs from which Ledvina cut these shapes, its substance.

Which brings me to the other "unspoken" part of this artwork. It is installed on the corner of Westheimer and Dunlavy. These works lack attribution, but they bare an uncanny resemblance to Ledvina's handy work.

And they bear out Ledvina's message. The center will not (and in this case does not) hold.

The segment of Stern's radio show echoes this lack of substance. It sounds like communication, like dialog, like the exchange of information between two people but it's not. The participants take turns speaking AT each other. They don't actually say anything. They don't hear each other. No ideas are formulated or exchanged. Instead, they repeat or rather parrot various cultural tropes. Both basically shouting "Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?" while their responses seemingly say "Yes, but I don't care."

In Dadtown, Ledvina points out the obvious by literally cutting it out right in front of our faces (or at least in front of a popular cafe \ avant garde bookstore). The center of political discourse, the substance of our communal life, the middle is missing. In the national political climate with the right-wing's perennial Reagan romanticism, Dadtown ironically reminds me of the Robbie Conal's protest posters that admonished politicians to SPEAK at the Iran-Contra hearings. Since then, politicians and political operatives have learned to speak, they just don't say anything.

Robbie Conal, Speak

Amid the popular political art, I find this criticism / culture jamming (as Keisha Washington stated in Not That This) savvy and shrewed. Especially for an artist who once commented on criticism about his own artspace, Tha Joanna, using this pictogram:


Oh well. Sometimes, we may not understand the words (or pictograms) coming out of each others mouths (-butts), but in the end, I do think Ledvina cares. And in Dadtown, it shows.

...and if I'm wrong, fuck it. I already apologized at the beginning. 8===> (*)


Pan Recommends for the week of November 29 to December 5

Robert Boyd

Another Thanksgiving has passed, and that means we are on the home-stretch for the year and that galleries and art-spaces are putting up their final shows of the season. And that means there's a lot happening this week. Here are just some of the shows and performances we're looking forward to.


Jamal Cyrus performing "Texas Fried Tenor" at the CAMH at 6:30 pm. Part of a series of performances at CAMH for Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, this one was  inspired by Steely Dan's song "Deacon Blues" which may be the only time the oblique-but-smooth jazz-rock stylings of Steely Dan have ever inspired a piece of performance art (although I'd be happy to be corrected if I'm wrong).


A bunch of shows at Lawndale Art Center, tonight at 6:30 and running through January 12. It's the usual grab bag of shows at Lawndale, but I'm looking especially forward to Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom curated by Katia Zavistovski because ever since I heard Thomas McEvilley described L'Avventura as "exquisitely boring" in film history class, boredom has been one of my favorite subjects. It includes art by Chris Akin, Seth Alverson, Uta Barth, Jeremy DePrez, Clayton Porter and Jenny Schlief. Also, James Ciosek's HUMAN HAMSTER WHEEL!


Theaster Gates performing See, Sit, Sup, Sing:Holding Court at CAMH at 2 pm. Another of the performances for Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. Theaster Gates is one of the best-known social practice artists around, so this performance is a "must-see".

Situation Sculpture #1 by the Art Guys at 4400 block of Airline Drive (at East Whitney Street) at 3 pm. This sculpture (which as far as I can tell is a bunch of sewer hook-ups in an empty lot) is part of the Art Guys' 30-year anniversary celebration. This conflicts somewhat with Theaster Gates--tough choice. If you can't decide, let the weather decide for you. If it's nasty, see Theaster Gates. If it's nice, see the Art Guys. (Although if you are willing to discard accepted safe-driving standards, you may be able to see both.)

Demiak at Redbud Gallery, opening at 6 pm [on view through December 30]. Martin Demmink, aka Demiak, is coming back to Houston after participating last year in a pair of group shows at Williams Tower and Box 13. His work in those shows involved photographing dioramas of Louisiana swamp scenes. I wonder if Dutch guys developing an affinity for Louisiana is a thing (I'm thinking of the character "Sonny" from Treme). Anyway, those pieces from last year were great so I have high hopes for this new exhibit.

What are you looking forward to seeing this weekend? Let us know in the comments section.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

No Art In Houston

Robert Boyd

That was Really Red from 1981. Really Red was one of Houston's earliest punk bands. The lyrics may be a bit hard to understand, so here they are written out:


I turn my radio on
Shitty klol
They don't like the music
Want the ears of the stupid

No culture Houston!
Only hollow shells!
No art in Houston
Except the kind that sells

I go to an art museum
It's more like a mausoleum
Three canvas's in a row
A million dollars worth of snow
The modern period's dead
Can't they get that through their heads?
This junk ain't art
I'd rather hear Van Gogh fart

I turn my TV on
I turn it right back off
It's such a waste of time
I'd rather be jacking off
They're all built on money
They're all built on cash
I want every TV in the city smashed

The symphony is fine
But it may be a dead art form
The ballet is beautiful
It's the audience I scorn
I didn't get invitations
From Miss Ima Hogg
Hit the street
Just a cut above a dog

The lyrics were by non-band member Perry Webb. He was in a band called Culturcide. These days, he goes by the name Mark Flood.


Pan Video Parade

Robert Boyd

I took some video of The Stacks (at the Art League) opening performance, but it wasn't as good as this video.

I could have uploaded my video, but why not go straight to the source? That's Douglas Kearny speaking the eulogies, and the whole thing was put together by Robert Pruitt. This video is from a blog, Not That This. (I don't know who took the footage--if you are the videographer, let me know.) Not That This is a pretty cool blog.  As a fellow blogger, I have two small suggestions. First, that the authors of Not That This try to post every day--it gives people something to look forward to. Second, they should always include tags with the blog posts--what WordPress calls categories--and the tags should be specific. This will help the posts show up when someone is searching for something that the blog has.

Aside from that, just keep on blogging!

I wrote about Trenton Doyle Hancock's new show  at James Cohan Gallery in New York, and here is the man himself talking about it to ArtInfo.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rich People Things

Robert Boyd

Anton S. Kandinsky, I don't want to be Peggy Guggenheim I want to be Victor Pinchuk, 2009-2010, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in

We've been seeing people jump ship from writing about art and from writing about the art market. Recent auction results seem so absurd that for some, withdrawing in disgust is the only option. It may be an overstatement to say, as Felix Salmon did, that "the courtiers are revolting." But there is a sense that the courtiers are realizing that they are, in fact, courtiers and that's making them uncomfortable. It's one thing to serve art, but serving the global plutocratic elite feels a bit distasteful. Responding to a Charlie Finch piece predicting an imminent art market crash, Salmon wrote the following:
No, Charlie, the art market oligopoly system isn’t going anywhere: if anything, it’s more entrenched than ever. But the people without millions of dollars, the people who try to talk about art but find all conversations ultimately being about money — those people are, finally, getting fed up.
There’s long been a disconnect between critical acclaim and high prices, but so long as the art market pumped money into the broader art ecosystem, no one really minded that. Rather, what seems to have changed is that art — art itself, divorced from commerce — has been drowned in the flood of money. Even the most highbrow museums, these days, only devote major shows to artists who have proved themselves winners in the great game of selling to plutocrats. [...] Or to put it another way, the art market has stopped being a source of fascination and crazy numbers, and has started to be a source of sheer disgust.
The world of high-end art collectors, by contrast, has reached a level of obscenity that the art world more generally can no longer ignore. It’s been clear to the more politically-minded for a while, but now we’re seeing the mainstreaming of attitudes which used to be found only on the far left. Enough of living in a world where an artwork without resale value is worthless. Enough of feeling jealous when some idiot starts selling for ridiculous sums. Enough of a world where the levels of inequality make Nigeria seem positively egalitarian. Yes, artists need to make money, and yes, big collectors shower ridiculous sums onto the art world. But that money isn’t trickling down, and it certainly isn’t respectable.[Felix Salmon, Occupy Art, November 19]
The thing is, this state of affairs is the inevitable result of the increased income inequality in the world. This increased inequality is two phenomena. First, the growing wealth of the third world and former communist countries, which, depending on the country, has benefited a large number of people while uplifting the ultra-rich the most (one might think of such heterogeneous countries as Turkey, Brazil and China) and some where small groups of oligarchs have ended up with almost all the spoils (Russia, Ukraine). Second, the huge growth of inequality within the U.S., where often brilliant persons with huge appetites for risk have pulled far ahead of the rest of us, usually as members of a new rentier class in the now deregulated financial industry. (See Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else for a depressingly detailed account.) Now while such persons could live modestly without a care as to what their fellow plutocrats think of them, we know historically this isn't what happens. Thorstein Veblen had witnessed it in his own time, the Gilded Age, and expensive art is just one more Veblen good (along with Maybach sports cars, Citation jets, and professional sports teams).

That Occupy criticizes this world is unremarkable. But when Sarah Thornton and Felix Salmon cease to find it all amusing, it's serious. The true courtiers can't allow that to go unanswered. With tongue in cheek (I assume), Kenny Schachter wrote, "I suggest all whiners (its practically it’s own movement by now) move to north korea and open an art cooperative. Imagine how long that would last before they either all killed themselves or started auctioning to Kim Jong-il." Marion Maneker accused Sarah Thornton of "histrionics."

What puts the brakes on plutocratic excess is progressive regulation and taxes. That was what happened with the Gilded Age and after the Roaring 20s. It will, I hope, happen again--here, in China, in Russia, etc. It's not easy--the plutocrat class finds it very easy to buy politicians and even public opinion. (Suggest that people who earn millions in dividends pay the same tax rate as a single person earning $70,000, and certain news organizations will call you a "socialist" who advocates "class war.") On the art front, we may be seeing a law that forces the names of consigners and buyers at auction to be made public, which would make some of the more common market manipulations in the art market more difficult. I wouldn't mind seeing a tax on auctions similar to the hotel occupancy taxes that most cities have--particularly if such taxes go to fund non-profits (for instance, the most of the Houston Art Alliance's income is from the City of Houston's hotel occupancy tax). Obviously increased droit moral laws would do some good. I would like to see more organized artist efforts at lobbying for these kinds of reforms.

But if you really want change this plutocratic art culture, reregulate the financial industry (starting with treating "carried interest" as ordinary income instead of as a capital gain), raise taxes on very high incomes, and fight to bring the rule of law to the very rich in countries like China and Russia. These are the things that will reign in the insanity of the ultra-high-end art market.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Wrapped Up In Books with Seth Alverson and Lane Hagood

Robert Boyd

Cronopios installation view at Kaboom Books

Lane Hagood is a bookworm. This was obvious when he won the Hunting Prize for a painting called Books I Have Possessed. Books have remained a subject for his work. And even when books are not directly referred to in his paintings, his work still feels bookish. It gives one the feeling of old libraries or cramped bookstores like Kaboom.

Kaboom is the kind of place where one might find an out-of-print book like Around the Day in Eighty Worlds by Julio Cortázar, and Lane Hagood is the kind of person who would pick it up. Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was an Argentine writer who was one of the first writers of "el Boom," a flowering of writing in Latin America that reached across borders and languages in the 1960s and 70s. He's best known in the English speaking world for his short stories (his first book in English was Blow-Up: And Other Stories--the movie Blow-Up is loosely based on Cortázar's story) and his novel Hopscotch. Around the World in Eighty Days is an unusual book, a collection of short non-fiction pieces, reviews, essays, etc., that is considered somewhat autobiographical. I say "considered" because I've never read it. (The extent of my Cortázar is the Blow-Up collection.) One thing about it is that it is full of illustrations and collages, some by Cortázar and some chosen by him. These illustrations intrigued Hagood and inspired this exhibit, Cronopios. Hagood and his collaborator in this project, painter Seth Alverson, describe the genesis in this brief dialogue:
Seth- Hey this book has really cool pictures in it.
Lane- Yeah, it’s a good book. That’s why I bought it, idiot.
S- Wouldn’t it be neat if I picked my favorite pictures out of the book and painted them, and you picked your favorite pictures out of the book and painted them, and I didn’t know which ones you picked, and you didn’t know which ones I picked? Th
en we would see how much we have in common. It would be a fun surprise at the end!
L- That sounds like a good time. I like little paintings.
S- I like little paintings too. How many pictures should we paint?
L- I dunno. Like 15?
S- Sure, that’s enough. 

A "cronopio" is a type of character in Cortázar's stories of the 60s. In this exhibit, Hagood and Alverson claim to be cronopios. Cortázar described cronopios like so:
When cronopios will travel, the hotels are full, the trains have already left, it's raining buckets, and taxis do not want to take them or charge them high prices. The cronopios not discouraged because they firmly believe that these things happen to everyone, and at bedtime they say to each other: "The beautiful city, the beautiful city." And dream all night of the city's fantastic parties to which they have been invited. The next day they rise thrilled, and that's how cronopios travel. [from "Historias de Cronopios y de Famas" by Julio Cortázar, 1962, translated by Google with some help from me.]
A friend of mine recently wrote "One thing about no one reading anymore is I'm somehow more okay with people not reading anything than I was with people reading stuff that was wrong." That he shared this aphorism on Facebook is probably meaningful. It feels as if the age of reading books is ending. That gives this show an elegiac feel. In its content and its setting, it is a celebration of bookishness, a quality diminishing in the modern world.

To see the paintings, one must mimic an activity of browsing in a bookstore. This activity is less adventurous than being a flâneur or walking in a Situationist dérive, but it's related to them. You wander the shelves--so expansive and maze-like at Kaboom--looking for the paintings, but also seeing the spines of innumerable books that you will never read. But, if you are a bookworm, you also know that you will eventually read some of them.

And sometimes you see where Hagood and Alverson have painted their own versions of the same image. Their choices are different for the most part, just as any two readers reading the same book have a different understanding of the book. This was something that Barthes theorized about, and which Borges discussed in a much pithier way. Given the number of potential readers for a number of potential books, meanings multiply explosively. A bookstore is a symbol for infinity.

Bookstores are hangouts for anti-social nerds, for people who would rather read than live. This is what we bookworms sometimes believe about ourselves. But going to Kaboom affords us the chance to speak with someone who is a priest or shaman to our class--the bookstore owner. Kaboom is owned by John and Dee Dillman. They prepared a veritable feast for Cronopios, served out on the back patio of Kaboom.

And John Dillman won't let me leave without telling me what he is reading and asking about what I am reading (biographies of Harold Ickes and Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton, respectively). He's the one who told me that Donald Barthelme was great but that his brothers are terrible. I don't totally agree, but as I looked at this show, I thought about Donald Barthelme. Like Cortázar, he favored the short story, and like Cortázar, he occasionally made texts sprinkled with his own illustrations and collages.

Dillman was inspired by Hagood and Alverson and Cortázar. So he drew the following image on the street in front of Kaboom.

An enormous hopscotch court. A beautiful homage to the ultimate cronopio, Julio Cortázar.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pan Recommends for the week of November 22 to November 28

Robert Boyd

Not much happening this week what with Thanksgiving Holiday--but there are a few things we think you might be interested in.


Black Friday, Phillip Pyle II at the Art League (as part of The Stacks), 6 pm, November 23. The Stacks isn't a traditional art show that remains more-or-less static throughout its duration. Instead, it's a series of residencies, and that means several opportunities for openings. This Friday, Phillip Pyle II shows us what he did with the shredded remains of stuff left over from the November 16 opening.


The Drawing Room, Part 2 at the Galveston Arts Center, 6 pm [through January 6]. A group drawing show that features Debra Barrera, Jillian Conrad, Bethany Johnson, Laura Lark, Jayne Lawrence, Leigh Anne Lester, Katie Maratta and Neva Mikulicz. With weather so nice this weekend, a little trip out to Galveston would be ever so pleasant--and a lovely drawing show at GAC would be a nice capper!

{Form follows (Function} follows Form) follows “Function...follows Form." at Kallinen Contemporary, 7 pm. This is the perfect show to see on the way back from Galveston. As usual, Kallinen Fine Art is offering up an overstuffed show in their huge quonset hut, this time displaying art furniture. The artists include John Paul Hartman, Solomon Kane, Amerimou$, Gian Palacios-Świątkowski, Kelley Devine, Dandee Warhol, Chasity Porter and many, many more.


Y. E. Torres and Erin Joyce: Raised In The Wild: Memories of a Bad Unicorn at the East End Studio Gallery, 6 pm [through November 25]. Don't much about this show, but it sounds in some ways like a sequel to Once there Was, Once There Wasn't, which Torres put on (with Lisa Chow) in August. Fractured fairy tales indeed.

BUT WAIT! The Pilgrims came to this continent and created Thanksgiving for one reason--so we could shop like maniacs on Friday. Now in recent decades this has become something of a bummer because parking lots are full and people brawl in the aisles of stores to get the last marked-down electronic thingumajig, and let's not ignore the folks who get trampled to death.

Sure you can avoid all this by staying home, but where's the respect for tradition in that? So I say, make Black Friday a day to buy art. Or slightly less black Saturday. Art is the perfect gift--it's highly personal and it's not mass-produced by exploited elves and buying art puts money in the pockets of artists. Plus, you are almost guaranteed not to be trampled to death by surging crowds of art consumers. Not all of Houston's galleries are open this weekend, but a lot of them are. I asked a few about their Black Friday (and Saturday) plans. Here's what they told me:

D.M. Allison -- open Friday and Saturday
Peveto -- open Saturday 2 pm to 5 pm
Catherine Couturier -- open Friday and Saturday

Redbud -- open Friday and Saturday
GGallery -- open Saturday

New Gallery -- open Friday and Saturday
P.G. Contemporary -- open Friday and Saturday

Anya Tish -- open Friday and Sturday

Art Palace -- open Saturday
Inman Gallery -- open Saturday
David Shelton Gallery -- open Friday and Saturday

Sicardi Gallery -- open Saturday
Gallery Sonja Roesch -- open Friday and Saturday
Darke Gallery -- open Saturday

(Is your gallery open this weekend? Let us know in the comments.)


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Depopulated Hopper

Robert Boyd

Illustrator Dean Rohrer has been playing around with an American classic. Using Photoshop, he has been taking the figures out of Edward Hopper paintings. His thinking is formal--do the paintings work when you take the supposed subject out? It turns out they do--in fact, they look great!

Depopulated Morning Sun

Depopulated Cape Cod Morning

Depopulated A Woman in the Sun

Depopulated New York Office

Depopulated Nighthawks at the Diner

Depopulated Summer Evening

Depopulated Summertime

Depopulated Four Lane Road

With modern technology like Photoshop, an artist like Rohrer can deconstruct artworks at will, discovering something new about them by altering them. Hopper's paintings so often speak of loneliness and isolation, and depopulating them amplifies this aspect. It also forces you to look at the shapes of color with which Hopper forms his images and how simple these shapes were, how minimal, without sacrificing realism.

Seeing them all at once also gives you the feeling of looking at a depopulated world, after some calamity has taken all the people away. They are spooky, haunted images.

Rohrer has been posting these images on his Facebook page. Of course, Hopper did many paintings without any figures in them. Maybe Rohrer's next project should be to take some of the figures he excised from the paintings above and add them to the paintings without figures.


Bret Shirley's Waxy Break-Down

Robert Boyd

Cardoza Fine Art has a show up called Wax featuring Bret Shirley, Lauren Moya Ford and Erin Joyce, but of all the three artists, only Shirley dealt with wax as a substance in his work. He employs wax in his pieces in a variety of ways, but what interests him most are the mutable qualities of wax. Wax is solid, but just barely. Heat just above room temperature will gradually deform it. But its softness doesn't prevent it from being simultaneously brittle. Shirley plays around with both its melty and brittle qualities in his work for this show.

Bret Shirley, Study for Dromilly Ave. (detail), electronics, beeswax, wood, twine, audio

Study for Dromilly Ave. is designed to work with wax's brittle qualities. The piece has three parts. The wax part is a large rectangle of beeswax suspended in space by twine. The twine runs through the wax and is attached to the ceiling and the floor. Embedded into the back of the wax of a bunch of small audio speakers, making noises.

Bret Shirley, Study for Dromilly Ave. (detail), electronics, beeswax, wood, twine, audio

The second part is the electronic device that feeds the signal into the speakers. And the first part, the source of the signal, are two microphones hanging down into the gallery, picking up the ambient sounds of conversation.

The idea is that the speakers will eventually create enough sound to cause the wax to form fractures, tiny cracks that will grown into big cracks under the influence of continuous sonic assault (aided by gravity). Eventually the cracks will grow big enough that the wax rectangle will fall apart. Study for Dromilly Ave. is therefore an auto-destructing sculpture, like the grand-daddy of such works, Homage to New York by Jean Tinguely. Since the source of the vibrations that will destroy the sculpture are the two microphones in the gallery, it is the chattering of the viewers that will ultimately destroy Study for Dromilly Ave. If it works, that is. The name, Study for Dromilly Ave., suggests that this is something of an experiment. Maybe cracks will form, maybe they won't. It's a process piece with a goal which may or may not be reached.

Bret Shirley, (left to right) Translational Object (Water), Translational Object (Tobacco), Translational Object (Beer), Translational Remnant (Water), Translational Remnant (Tobacco), Translational Remnant (Beer), bottled mineral water, rolling tobacco, can of beer, beeswax, 9 volt batteries

The Translational Remnants (Water, Tobacco and Beer) take advantage of wax's tendency to melt. On the left are three common objects of consumption--water, tobacco and beer, each attached to a transistor battery. On the right are wax objects that have been formed in the empty space inside a bottle of water, a package of tobacco and a can of beer. They are the negative space, similar to the sculptures of Rachel Whiteread. Each of these pieces of yellowy beeswax has wires going into them, attached to batteries.

Here the idea is that the wire inside the wax will generate heat, gradually melting the piece. They started as negative images of a thing, and will end up possibly as puddles. Or will they? Again the question is whether the process will lead to the autodestructive endpoint. As I understand it, inside each wax object, the wire is simply stripped of insulation. If there had been a resistor added, the interior heat would have been higher. I wonder if the heat will be enough to actually melt the wax.

Bret Shirley, (clockwise from top) Translational Remnant (Water), Translational Remnant (Beer), Translational Remnant (Tobacco), beeswax, 9 volt batteries

But the question about whether the process will complete itself is one of the appealing aspects of the work. They come across as school experiments, the kind of thing a clever kid might do for a science fair. There is something kind of joyful about this kind of desktop science.

But by gradually transforming a representation of the inside of each container, Shirley is creating an analog to what happens to the actual contents of each of these vessels. The water is drunk and become part of is. The beer is drunk and the alcohol metabolized by the liver. The tobacco burns, the smoke is inhaled and some of it enters the bloodstream. Water, beer and tobacco are transformed by our use of them.

Bret Shirley, (left to right) Am 7 20 bpm, C 92 bpm, Bm 92 bpm, Em 120 bpm, beeswax, watercolor on paper

Bret Shirley, Em 120 bpm, beeswax, watercolor on paper

The other works in the show feel more traditional in the sense that they are pieces in the midst of an incomplete process. The beeswax and watercolor spatter paintings, however, sem to be the end of a process. Each one is named after a chord and a beat, and I wonder if those noises were used in making the pieces (perhaps vibrating the paper as the wax was poured?).

Bret Shirley, Untitled (Red Cluster), wax, watercolor

The two untitled wax pieces sit between painting and sculpture. The wax rectangle of Untitled (Red Cluster) has been broken (and unless handled very carefully, will break again) giving the top of the piece a jagged edge.

Shirley's experiments with sound, electricity and wax are quite fascinating, and with Study for Dromilly Ave. and the Translational Remnants, additional visits to the gallery are definitely called for to see the progress of the process.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Sometimes a car is just a car (Not!)

Dean Liscum

Debra Barrera's Kissing in Cars, Driving Alone at Moody Gallery is the sexiest show that I've seen so far this year.

Bar none.

Yet there are no full frontal nudes, no orgiastic tangle of limbs, no burnished cocks or plush pussies rendered in photo realist detail on a monumental scale. It's just automobiles: paraphernalia, drawings, parts.

Jeff Koons would be very, very disappointed.

Let me explain what I mean by "sexy" because it's both a powerful word and also a very personal one that tends toward ambiguity. In other words, your "sexy", my "sexy", and Mitt Romney's "sexy" might not match up. (Although magic underwear may be the garment that binds our "sexy" together.) For me, "Sexy" is mental. It's a state of mind. It's an approach and an attitude that focuses on the minutiae to the point of obsession. And I'm not just talking about the physical details. I'm also referring to the symbolic, the psychological, the political, the social, and the metaphysical details that compose and converge into an art work.

If the devil is in the details, my version of "sexy" is the devil's devil.

Barrera's approach to the automobile--how she handles it, how she represents it--makes me swoon. And partly because cars are the perfect metaphor for life in the U.S. As a symbol they represent freedom, sex, and death, making an emotional connection as well as serving as a signifier. For I suspect, regardless of where you misspent your youth, chances are that you either had your first sense of adult autonomy or had your first sexual experience or your first encounter with death in an automobile. Or all three.

Barrera leverages that symbolism in her sensual and reverential treatment of cars. It's most obvious in her photographs of the personal detritus that she salvaged from wrecks. She collected personal belongings left behind in wrecked cars and beautifully photographed them in a way in which each subject becomes an objects d'art and also a visual, narrative poem: a clutch of red balloons, a rusting tiara, a molding precious bible. The 8" x 10" frames each contain an entire life's story. They invite you to imagine them.

Debra Barrera, Balloons, 2012, archival inkjet print, 8" x 10 5/8"

Debra Barrera, Precious Moments Bible, 2012,  archival inkjet print, 8" x 10 5/8"

The sensuality comes through in her drawings of cars. The detailed graphite renderings of the cars reminds me of fellow Moody Gallery artist Michael Bise. The suspension of the subject and the drawings lack of mundane contextual details suspend the subject and elevate it to an ideal, similar to the drawings of Robert Pruitt. Where as his stark presentation of his subjects force you to confront his blend of ethnic and social and political symbols and stereotypes, Barrera's sports cars read as an erotic ideal. Each one is a petite mort, distilled from time and space, complete and unending within the confines of the frame as if within an evening of making love. The timelessness is evident in Circuit (Mont-Tremblant) in which the cars eternally race toward a non-existent finish line, accelerator to the floor, engines screaming.

Debra Barrera, Circuit (Mont-Tremblant), 2012, graphite on paper, 20" x 28"

Two other pieces draw on the automobile's sex-death symbolism. In Skoda Favorit over Toroweap, a car has driven over a cliff and we are witnessing it moments before impact, wincing with anticipation of the power and pain on impact, a moment before completion, before climax.

Debra Barrera, Skoda Favorit over Toroweap, 2012, graphite on paper, 28" x 18"
The other drawing features the Lamborgini that Grace Kelly drove at the 1967 Grand Prix in Monaco. The reference to the sex symbol Grace Kelly adds to the pieces sexual allure but it is Barrera's masterful rendering of the Lamborgini, the 20th century sex symbol equivalent of Michelanglo's David, that delivers it. The allusion to death is included in the reference to Grace Kelly, who suffered a stroke and drove her car over a cliff. Such a beautiful princess. Such a sexy car. Such a romantic death.

Debra Barrera, Princess Grace Drives in Monaco, 2012, graphite on paper, 28 1/2" x 16 1/4"

The third aspect of the show is the parts. Here too, Barrera consistently handles her chosen objects with the same sensuality, the same loving care that an automobile enthusiast would exhibit or a gear head would give.

Debra Barrera, El Camino on Earth (Texas), 2012, 1972 Custom El Camino with 1993 Corvette engine

She does that with automotive enamel. In I'd rather have a Lamborghini than memories, Barerra lovingly lacquers a suitcase with the automotive equivalent of Yves Klein Blue. The piece's title is an acknowledgement of the instant gratification ethos of the American culture. The treatment of the piece of luggage is an extension ad absurdum of the concept. If you can't have the beautiful blue Lamborghini, then you can at least have its shiny metallic coat.

Debra Barrera, I'd rather have a Lamborghini than memories, 2012, suitcase, automotive spray paint (Gallardo Blue), various travel momentos of the artist including movie and airline tickets, museum guides, diamond bracelent, one love letter, and restaurant mints, 24" x 19" x 6"

In her most playful piece, Someday Looks So Good Right Now, she sexes up death, automotive style. She tricks out a walker by painting it with sparkling automotive paint and chroming out the cross bars. Death may be inevitable but you can stagger with some swagger toward it in all your gear head glory.

Debra Barrera, Someday Looks So Good Right Now II, 2012, medical walker, automotive enamel, leatherette, stainless steel, 36" x 19" x 6" 

Of course these subjects: the automobile, sex, death, and freedom are openly available to her (and female artists the worldwide, except may be Saudi Arabia) because of the women that push the boundaries. Barrera pays homage to one of those women, Dorothy Leavitt, a pioneer in female motor racing and independence.

Debra Barrera, For Dorothy Leavitt, 2012, 1986 Pontiac Firebird rearview mirror, automotive enamel, spotlight

In an age of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and binders of women, I imagine Barrera is subtly, symbolically asserting two things: 1) women (and their equality) may be closer than they appear and 2) once women (at least women like herself and Dorothy) have passed men, they won't be needing rear view mirrors ever again.

I don't care what your sexual preference is, that kind of confidence is dead sexy.